What is prayer?/Technical Difficulties

This a duplicate of my latest post. It seems the first time it went out, the link was broken, taking readers to a page that says, “This is somewhat embarrassing…”

I’ll say. Anyway, here’s the original post:

I was reading a book by a popular Christian author tonight and found myself having a difficult time with his notion of prayer. His thesis (I think) was that the purpose of prayer is to glorify God by recognizing and expressing our dependence upon him.

A quick survey of the web will yield a surprisingly varied collection of attempts to answer the question of the nature and purpose of prayer. Christian blogs, Bible answer forums, Church websites, quotes from popular Christian leaders, and articles from notable theologians and scholars have in common a level of ambiguity (some more than others) when it comes to addressing the topic prayer. Definitions and explanations are often narrow, confusing, unqualified, self-contradictory, or generally unsatisfying.

It doesn’t seem like this should be the case when we are dealing with a practice that is so often observed, taught, and even commanded in the Bible—one that is so central to the Christian life. Did God intend this concept to be so fuzzy and complicated?

I think the problem is that (nearly) everybody is attempting to resolve obvious tensions between what they believe to be true about God with what the Bible seems to reveal about the nature of prayer.

Here are a few examples of some of the different views:

God really responds to our prayers, and things are different because we prayed.

Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes us.

Prayer aligns our will with God’s.

Prayer is actual communication with God.

Prayer is acknowledgement of our dependence on God.

Prayer is a way to refocus.

So, I’m curious. What do you think…and why? What is prayer? What is its purpose? What actual effect does it have?

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9 thoughts on “What is prayer?/Technical Difficulties”

  1. Well, I started an answer to this here: http://web.me.com/craigadams1/Commonplace_Holiness/Blog/Entries/2011/1/5_What_is_Prayer.html

    As I recall, this was intended to be something of a series, but life intruded (as it has a way of doing) and I didn’t get back to it.

    But, I would say: that I react very strongly against definitions of prayer that leave little place for Petition and Intercession. I know people do this to avoid the intellectual problems associated with these practices — but I feel this move cannot be correct. Petition and Intercession are too prominent in Scripture to be ignored.

  2. Hey, I just found you through your post on Kingdom Living & Cultural Assumptions. In his book, The Pursuit of God, Tozer says: “A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting our response to His Presence. This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon its reality.”

    I tend to think prayer is the vehicle, or means, by which I am allowed to engage in the reality of this spiritual kingdom. It’s multi-faceted. It allows me to speak and feel. It requires me to learn to put aside self. It requires me to learn to listen. It is transformative. It is an indescribable gift to have access to the eternal God in such an intensely individualized relationship.

    In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard writes, “Today, as God’s trusting apprentices in the kingdom of the heavens, we live on the Emmaus road, so to speak, with an intermittently burning heart. His word pours into our heart, energizing and directing our life in a way that cannot be accounted for in natural terms. The presence of the physical world is, then, if I will have it so, no longer a barrier between me and God. My visible surroundings become, instead, God’s gift to me, where I am privileged to see the rule of heaven realized through my friendship with Jesus. He makes it so in response to my expectation. There, in some joyous measure, creation is seen moving toward “the glorious liberty of the children of God”–all because my life counts for eternity as I live and walk with God.”

    Probably I didn’t really answer your question. But I couldn’t learn to live and walk with God if it weren’t for this thing called prayer. Thanks for your posts. Thoughtful stuff.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer, for joining the conversation. Your comment was perfect. I’m really just trying to hear from readers what their understanding of prayer is and what it is shaped by. You shared just that!

      “It is an indescribable gift to have access to the eternal God in such an intensely individualized relationship.”

      Yes, indeed.

  3. I’m with Jennifer. My simple definition is that prayer is me talking to God . . . and He listens. I can choose to listen, too.

    1. Yep, that’s where I’m at too. Prayer is communication with God.
      I very much agree with Craig too, though. I have a big problem when people try to explain that God responding to our prayers effects no real change, except in our perspective. The Bible would seem to teach otherwise.

  4. I’m not sure if this is what you’re talking about, but I absolutely think that God’s response in prayer can come in tangible ways! I think we too often are encouraged/taught that this is not so and so we do not even look for it.

    1. I agree Jennifer and that is basically what I was getting at. We can’t even conceive the amount of variables by which God determines how he will respond to prayers and when, but–as I understand my Bible–he certainly does.

      It just gets a little tricky because this idea forces tension with other mainstream theological concepts. Some people choose to explain away the tensions, others choose to accept or embrace the tension as something beyond our understanding, while still others choose to rethink their theology at a very foundational level.

      But however you approach the issue, you can’t go wrong if you come to prayer knowing that God hears and responds. 🙂

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